Friday, August 29, 2008

All hail Barbie!

In addition to my other interests, I collect Barbie dolls. I came across this article about the Barbie vs. Bratz war.

For the most part, Mattel’s issue is sour grapes. Sure, Barbie sales went down after MGA’s Bratz dolls were introduced. 50 years after Barbie was born, little girls are different! They don’t care about expertly designed and well-made clothing. They want “sassy” dolls of all colors – silicone-lipped, bare-midriffed, urban-styled, doe-eyed dolls that look like they have a secret… and they’ll tell you later…

Don’t get me wrong, $779 million in Bratz sales since 2001 is significant. But is it about the money, or about the dolls? Mattel is receiving $90 million in damages related to breach of contract, and only $10 million for copyright infringement. Sounds like it’s personal to me. Mattel also has a lawsuit pending against MGA regarding trade secrets, not to mention MGA's reverse lawsuit against Mattel’s My Scene dolls (Barbie-sized, but with a distinctly more urban look).

People. This is the same problem the Barbie line was faced with when it first hit the market. Ruth Handler basically copied the German cartoon working-girl Bild Lilli doll to design a toy that looked more grown-up, with grown-up clothes doing grown-up things, like dating and modeling. Mattel bought the rights to Lilli five years after Barbie was launched, good and fast, and cornered the market. Now they’re on the other side and don’t like the way it feels.

To me, it’s silly. They are not alike at all – although both female, they are of different ages and have completely different looks. Bottom line: despite both dolls' screwy body proportions and overly-made-up faces, there will always be Barbie collectors. Bratz dolls already look like Barbie’s malnourished, under- privileged cousins with cheap plastic surgery. In another 50 years, no one will even remember them.

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